Omega 3 fatty acids are known for their positive nutritional benefits on various organs and body functions. At Desta, we like omega 3 fatty acids so much that we have several articles on them. Recent years have brought about research that further suggests the importance of these acids in relation to heart health, mental health, memory, and the treatment of arthritis. Omega 3 fatty acids are super nutrients that help to support health and development, especially in pregnant women and infants. We’re going to tell you why these fats are so important.
What Are Omega Three Fatty Acids?
There are three types of Omega 3 fatty acids; EPA and DHA (found in fish) and ALA (found in nuts and seeds). Our bodies do not produce Omega 3s so it is essential to obtain these nutrients from our diet. Some common sources of EPA, DHA and ALA include; Fish (Halibut, Mackerel, Salmon, Sardines, Trout, Tuna), Flaxseed, Pumpkin Seeds, Walnuts, Almonds, Avocados, Canola Oil, Soybean Oil and many other Omega 3 enriched products.
These acids are known particularly for their support of heart health and brain health. Omega 3s protect the heart by reducing triglycerides and raising HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and thus lowering risk of cardiovascular disease. Recent studies suggest that Omega 3s play an important role in the development of the brain. Additional research indicates that these acids can have an anti-inflammatory effect; which may aid in the treatment of multiple inflammatory diseases, arthritis especially.
Nutrition During Pregnancy
The woman’s body undergoes great changes to accommodate a growing fetus during pregnancy. Given this, the nutritional needs of pregnant woman are greater than non-pregnant women. The most essential nutrients for pregnant women to ensure adequate supplementation include: Folic Acid, Iron, Calcium and Vitamin D. Check out our article on nutritional supplements during pregnancy for more information. Women who lack these nutrients during pregnancy run a higher risk of pre-term labor, pregnancy and birthing complications as well as possible infant birth defects. These nutrients are standard ingredients in most pre-natal supplements.
Omega 3s, however, are not standard in pre-natals.
Omega 3 supplementation during pregnancy has been associated with numerous health benefits for both mom and baby. Omega 3s can be obtained by supplementation or consuming a diet rich in the fatty acids.
Omega 3 Supplementation for Mom
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), Omega 3 acids, are utilized by the body to maintain healthy cell membranes. This has shown to be particularly important in pregnant women. IJMS- Benefits of Daily DHA in Healthy Pregnant Women suggests that daily supplementation of DHA in pregnant women can lead to a reduced risk of pregnancy complications as well as an increased gestational length. Studies suggest that women who ate fish greater than one time weekly had a lower risk of preterm birth than women who ate fish less than once weekly. Additionally, because Omega 3s are recognized for their anti-inflammatory process, it is believed that they may be beneficial in preventing birthing complications related to placental inflammation.
Omega 3 Supplementation for Baby
Omega 3 intake is just as important for baby as it is for mom. The third trimester appears to be the most DHA demanding stage for the fetus. Daily intake of Omega 3s during pregnancy is recommended. AJCN Omega-3rich Fish Intake During Pregnancy and Birth Weight suggests that women who ate fish greater than one time weekly birthed infants with an increased birth weight when compared to infants birthed by women who did not consume fish at least once weekly. Additionally, consumption of Omega 3 is associated with brain and retinal maturation of an infant. PharmaR Review: DHA in Pregnancy and Childhood indicates that maternal and infant supplementation of fatty acids may lead to improved neurological development and outcomes. This has suggests that the consumption of Omega 3s can have an impact on the cognitive development of children.
How Much Omega 3 Should Pregnant Women Consume?
Nutrients- Expanding Awareness of DHA during Pregnancy suggests that pregnant women are recommended to consume at least 200mg DHA daily. There is plenty of different research regarding this recommendation, it is important to discuss the initiation of any supplementation with your doctor.
Many pregnant women may wonder about consuming fish during pregnancy, considering the warnings about mercury consumption and the effects it can have on a fetus. This is a valid question and Mayo Clinic: Omega 3 Fatty Acids During Pregnancy and Breast Feeding suggests that pregnant women avoid eating fish with higher mercury levels and rather choose those with low mercury content (Marlin, Tuna, Red Snapper) – a general rule is that smaller fish such as sardines and salmon are safer than bigger fish like swordfish and tuna. Fish oil supplements contain virtually no mercury as mercury tends to build up in the meat of the fish. Fish oil supplements and Omega 3 enriched foods can be a safe alternative to consuming an adequate amount of these important fatty acids.
Talk to Your Doctor
It is important to discuss the initiation of any new supplement or diet change with your doctor prior to implementation. Ask your doctor what is best for you and your personal health situation.